What You Should Know About Combine Harvesters

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Combine harvesters are one of the most commonly used pieces of farm equipment used across the United States (and the world). Generally referred to simply as “combines”, it is an essential and complex machine designed to efficiently harvest large quantities of grain from crops. A modern combine harvester can cut a swath through a field at 40 or more feet wide.

The three essentials of harvest functions — reaping, threshing and winnowing — give the combine its name. Many crops are harvested such as corn, wheat, corn, barley, rye, flax, sorghum, canola and sunflowers. A combine harvester uses a different head in order to successfully harvest each type of grain.

Combine harvesters were first patented in the United States in 1935 and most early versions were horse-drawn devices before they were pulled by tractors for many years until the mid-20th century when self-propelled combines were created and remain in use today. The 1980s saw combines equipped with on-board electronics in order to measure operation and crop yield data.

Here at Wagner Ag, we bring experience and intimate knowledge when it comes to farm equipment and proudly sell both new and used equipment for any agricultural need. In an effort to help you better understand which equipment is best for your farm and needs, we wrote today’s blog post about the things you should know about combine harvesters. So read on and learn more about what combine is right for your farm, the best maintenance and operating practices and how to get the most from you combine when it’s time to harvest!

What Combine Harvesting Involves

In the 1800s, close to 90 percent of the people in the U.S. worked the land to earn an income, whereas today, less than 2 percent of people in this country make a living from farming and ranching. Part of that reason was the advancement of technology, such as the combine harvester, which did the job of several people in a much more efficient manner.

When crops grow in the fields, only part of them is actually edible. We can use the seeds at the top of each plan — the grain — and make products such as bread, but the rest of the plant (the chaff) are inedible and need discarding, along with the stalks. This all used to be done by hand and was tedious manual labor. People needed to cut the plants down, separate the grain from the rest (threshing) and clean any remaining debris from the seeds so they would work in the mill. Combine harvesters do all of this automatically.

How A Combine Harvester Works

A combine harvester is such an essential piece of farm equipment because it cuts down a ton of time and costs associated with harvesting. A combine automatically does all the harvest steps by driving them through a field of crops and the machine cuts, threshes and cleans the grains by themselves using rotating blades, wheels, sieves and elevators.

The grain then collects in a tank inside the combine (usually emptied into an accompanying tractor when it fills up), while the chaff and stalks exit from a pipe at the back of the machine and fall into the field. The components and processes of the combine are quite complex. Each grain requires a different headers, which is at the front of the combine and cuts the crops with a wide cutting bar so the other internal workings can begin threshing and cleaning the grain. Here’s a quick breakdown of the process:

  • Header churns along the field to gather the crop
  • A reel pushes the crop into the cutter, which runs along the cutter bar
  • The cutter snips the crop at its base
  • Crops are fed into the threshing drum to beat the crops and shake grains free
  • The grains fall through sieves into a collecting tank
  • Unwanted material passes to the back of the combine and falls back into the field
  • Grain yields are transferred up an elevator and shoot out an unloader into a trailer

Used Combines Are Best for Some Farms

Not every farm or farmer can afford to purchase the latest and greatest technology in combine harvesters. But that’s OK. There are plenty of fantastic alternatives such as used farm equipment, which Wagner Ag sells at tremendously affordable prices after ensuring they are in great working order. If you’re coming off of some lean sales years or are looking to upgrade without breaking the bank, used farm equipment is a great option for your farm.

Combines can be one of the best buys you’ll find and the benefits can’t be overstated. Specific features of any model determine its value, new or used. Rigid auger headers depreciate their value quicker than newer flexing draper headers, and the machine’s brand can also make a difference just like vehicles. Do your research, talk to us here at Wagner Ag and find a used combine that is functioning so help your farm turn a profit.

Repair and Maintenance Are Key

It doesn’t matter if you purchased used farm equipment or a brand new combine harvester, either way, you need to keep up with the maintenance to ensure proper operation and long-lasting use of your combine. Combines can require daily attention to keep them running at 100-percent capacity, so it’s worth knowing the machine’s mechanical and electronic features.

Start before the harvest with a pre-inspection and pay special attention to any trouble spots or areas you notice excessive damage or wear and tear. The cleaning shoe is a part worth keeping an eye on. While cleaning the shoe is messy, it’s necessary to control grain loss and keep the combine running at maximum capacity. Keep in mind the last year’s harvest. A wet harvest leads to mud in the parts, while a dry harvest means dust accumulation.

Take Care of the Header

A worn header is typically the leading cause of grain loss on a combine harvester (especially corn), around 60 percent of the time. Properly adjusting and maintaining the header minimizes the impact of grain loss and improves overall combine harvesting. Good inspections before the season eliminate many issues and should include gathering chain tension, free-moving deck plates, sound drive system and as an assessment of the stalk roller’s condition. Corn stalks, for example, are much tougher than in the past, so combines traveling at faster speeds can cause more stress to the header.

Platform Options

There are two grain platforms that come in basically every combine: traditional and draper. A traditional platform uses an auger with a steel floor and the draper platform utilizes a belt to feed the plant into the combine to separate the grain. A flex draper features flex cutter bars, which self-adjust as the header passes over uneven terrain or small obstacles. As a result, flex drapers yield less grain loss and fewer problems when plugging wet crops.

Combines Keep Getting Better

There have been many advancements in combine technology and operation over the years to a point where they are now incredibly complex and efficient pieces of farm equipment. Manufacturers such as Massey Ferguson, Bush Hog, Hesston and more continue to develop designs in order to meet farmers’ needs. New models gain offer grain tanks up to 485 bushels and unload at six bushels per second. You can even remotely monitor combine performance. Self-propelled combine harvesters used less fuel and have improved traction, respond and sometimes even a special gear for road travel.

Combine Harvesting Tips

Figuring out how to configure your combine harvester to run at peak capacity is as much an art as it is technical. Simple adjustments in one area can have effects on several others. We suggest making frequent use of your operator’s manual and perform adjustments one at a time. Start with the suggested settings and then tweak them as crop conditions change.

Your goal should always be to clean grain without as few losses as possible. The cutting platform, header, feeder house, threshing mechanism and cleaning shoe must all work in concert and in a wide variety of field conditions. We also recommend you determine if crops are worth salvaging or if the loss is too great when it comes to weather-damaged crops.

Above all, combine harvesting should be safe. Know your crop, your farm equipment and the operator’s limits. Staying realistic with those factors will allow you to get the most from your grain yield year over year.

Shop Our Selection of Used Farm Equipment!

We hope you found today’s post about combine harvesters helpful and informative. Wagner Ag is an expert in farm equipment and offer the highest-standard new and used farm equipment for any agricultural need. We provide outstanding customer service by listening and offering professional feedback and suggestions.

Our highly-trained staff of experts has a deep background in farm equipment and is here to help you get what you need, so contact us today for more questions and browse our wide selection of new and used farm equipment today!